What makes the human mouth so good at eating?

Dr. Michael Roizen, MD
Internal Medicine
Although opera singers, politicians, and courtside fans are mostly known for what comes out of their mouths, what makes our mouths so special is how we handle what goes in them.

For starters, consider your mouth to be just like the guy who buckles you in on a roller coaster-it's there simply to prepare the food for the journey.

We're different than most other animals in the way we chew. A crocodile, for instance, has nail-like teeth so it can grab its food and rip it apart. Though intimidating, it's actually not energy-efficient because a crocodile cannot start extracting energy until the food is halfway through its intestinal system. Elephants have flat teeth made to chew in a grinding motion, which allows them to eat all kinds of food, but it also takes a lot of time to prepare it. Neither way is very efficient (in fact, elephants have to make new teeth to replace the worn-out ones throughout their lives, and when they lose their last tooth, they die of starvation).

Humans, however, get the most energy possible from food because we don't waste a lot of energy as we eat. We can thank our opposing molars for starting us off right; each fits in the grooves of an opposing tooth. If one tooth falls out, the opposite tooth actually grows longer to try to make up space (ever hear of long in the tooth?).

The other advantage we have is that our jawbones allow us to crush food efficiently. As the only joint in the body that purposely dislocates itself during a motion, the jawbone has two points of attachment-a lever point in the back of the jaw and another two inches in front. Every time you chew, your jaw dislocates and relocates, which allows us to crush food like a foot crushes an aluminum can.

YOU: The Owner's Manual, Updated and Expanded Edition: An Insider's Guide to the Body that Will Make You Healthier and Younger
The human mouth is so good at eating because of its design. The jaw bone provides the right dislocating and relocating motion for your mouth to crush food. Your teeth align for chewing, and saliva aids the eating and digestion process by moistening the food in your mouth. Your mouth also contains certain germs that help break down food and fight bacteria.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.